The Singing 'Vice': Music and Mischief in Early English Drama

  • Maura Giles-Watson University of Nebraska-Lincoln


The 'Vice' — a corrupt character frequent in early English drama — engages in mischief ranging from the benignly annoying to the outright wicked. His activities typically include subterfuge that results in the seduction of the dramatic hero, other characters, and even members of the audience. Music is a frequent device in the Vice's project. From the standpoints of Baudrillard's theory of seduction and of sixteenth-century and contemporary perspectives on theatrical music, improvisation, acting, and ethopoieia, this essay explores the role of singing in what Robert Weimann and Douglas Bruster term the Vice's 'personation'. The effect of the Vice's musicality in the representation and achievement of seduction in plays from Mankind to Shakespeare is also considered, with particular emphasis on three intervening interludes: John Heywood’s comedy A Play of the Wether, Bale’s history play King Johan, and Pickering’s pseudo-classical revenge tragedy Horestes.